By: Prof. Dr. Seyed Saeid Zamanieh Shahri, MD and Prof. Dr. Sonia Sayyedalhosseini, MD

Factors that increase the risk of atrial septal defect:

The exact cause of atrial septal defect is not known. But congenital heart defects usually occur due to genetic mutations in families. This defect may be associated with another defect, such as Down syndrome. If you have a heart defect yourself or have a child with these characteristics, genetic counseling can inform you of the birth of another child with a heart defect.

Conditions that increase the risk of having a baby with an atrial septal defect during pregnancy include the following:

Rubella: An infection from rubella (German measles) during the first few months of pregnancy can increase the risk of developing a fetal heart defect in a baby.

Drugs, tobacco or alcohol: Using certain medications, tobacco, alcohol or drugs such as cocaine during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus.

Diabetes or lupus: If you have diabetes or lupus, you may have a child with a heart defect.
Obesity: Overweight (obesity) may increase the risk of giving birth to a baby with an atrial septal defect.

Side effects of atrial septal defect:

Small atrial wall defects may never be a problem, and even after a while, these defects will heal on their own. But bigger flaws can cause serious problems, including:

• Right heart failure

• Heart rhythm disorders (cardiac arrhythmias)

• Increased risk of heart attack

• Reduced lifespan

The most common side effects are:

• Pulmonary hypertension

If atrial septal defect is not treated, increased blood flow to the lungs can increase blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries.

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• Eisenmenger syndrome

Pulmonary hypertension causes permanent lung damage. This condition, called Eisenmenger syndrome, usually develops over the years and occurs suddenly in people with atrial septal defect.

Treatment can prevent many of these complications.

Atrial wall defects and pregnancy:

Most women with atrial septal defect can get pregnant without any problems. However, a larger atrial septal defect or symptoms such as heart failure, arrhythmia, or pulmonary hypertension may increase the risk of high complications during pregnancy. Doctors advise women with Eisenmenger syndrome not to get pregnant, because they risk their lives with pregnancy.

How to prevent atrial septal defect:

In most cases, atrial septal defect can not be prevented. If you are planning a pregnancy, be sure to consult your doctor and check the following.

• Perform tests to ensure safety against rubella. You can ask your doctor for the necessary vaccines for extra safety

• Review of current conditions and medications used

• Check your family medical history. If you have a family history of heart disease or congenital heart defects, be sure to consult a genetic counselor to find out the risk of pregnancy.

How to diagnose atrial septal defect:

If your doctor suspects that you have this disease after a physical examination and examining your symptoms, he or she will recommend either of the following tests to make sure.


This test is the most common case for diagnosing atrial septal defect. During an echocardiogram, sound waves are used to produce a video image of the heart, which helps your doctor diagnose the following:

• Diagnosis of heart defects

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• Measuring heart pumping pressure

• Check the heart valves

• Evaluate the symptoms of heart failure

• Determining the patient’s heart condition

• Choice of treatment

Chest X-ray:

An x-ray image helps your doctor:

• See the condition of the patient’s heart and lungs

• Evaluation of heart defects and its symptoms and complications

Electrocardiogram (ECG):

This test measures cardiac arrhythmia by measuring the electrical activity of the heart.

Cardiac catheterization:

In this test, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel in the groin or arm and guided to the heart. Through catheterization, physicians can:

•Recognize congenital heart defects

•Evaluate heart rate

•Monitors the function of the heart valves

•Measure blood pressure inside the lungs

This test is also used to correct heart defects.


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